After a week surrounded by the hyper-modern infrastructure of Singapore’s bustling metropolis, H and I grabbed our bathing suits and a guidebook and took off for Bali. In contrast to Singapore’s sometimes, unnerving hygienic quality, Bali shines as an unsuppressed beacon of grit and culture. If Singapore is a gas fireplace, Bali is a bonfire.
It is a tourist area, rich with Hindu customs, a surfing culture, and unsurpassable graciousness. On the streets, text-messaging motorcyclists jet along swiss cheese roads, while in town, toothless women follow travelers, becoming t-shirt and bangle selling shadows. The food vendors line the roads (there is no sidewalk to speak of) and offer an assortment of indistinguishable fried lumps. (Having ordered one of each, I still haven’t the faintest idea what they all were, except that two tasted like banana).
When H and I arrived, it was dark and suspect cabbies competed for our attention. Feeling like millionaires ($1 US equaling about 8,400 rupiah), we found a licensed ride and made our way to Uluwatu. One of the southern most points of Bali, Uluwatu is hidden away from the main cities of Kutu, and the capitol, Denpasar. In fact, when we told a waitress where we were staying, she responded, “Oh, lots of monkeys!”
In the nearby temple of Pura Luhur Uluwatu, monkey’s roam free and steal the glasses and earrings off unsuspecting tourists. While my primary mission in Bali was a simple one -monkeys – H had is sights set slightly higher. So, while the monkey’s supped on raw eggs, H lead us to a more refined dining experience at Bambu Bali – one of Bali’s top-rated restaurants.
Bambu Bali combines the hospitality of a Ritz Carlton with the earthiness of the tropics. After a jubilant welcoming from the owner/chef (Heinz Von Holzen) and the entire kitchen staff from their open kitchen, a flower is placed behind each guest’s ear as they are escorted to their table.
Although native to Switzerland, Holzen has dedicated his passion to Balinese cuisine. Before the opening of his restaurant in 1997, the local dishes had remained relatively unavailable to anyone outside a Balinese home. Meals in Bali are traditionally very private and had remained unexplored before Holzen devoted his enthusiasm to the sharing the island’s colorful flavors.
With a restaurant, cooking school, bed & breakfast and several cookbooks, Holzen’s love for his work, and Balinese culture, reveals itself in every detail. Even the restaurant’s linens were perfumed with the delicate scent of tropical flowers.
We ordered the “Rijsttafel,” which is the basic Indonesian term for “Rice Table.” Coined during the Dutch colonial period, this term was used to describe a lavish Indonesian feast. Unlike, a European meal where the food was plated, Indonesian food was served in the center of the table, accompanied by baskets of steamed white rice.
With a sampling of appetizers, soup, nine entrees and at least five desserts, the meal was breathtaking. Lamb stew in coconut milk, minced duck in banana leaf, grilled fish, black rice pudding, rice flour dumplings in palm sugar sauce…every new bite outdid the last. Not only was each spoonful loaded with different, rich flavors of coconut, Thai basil, and spicy pepper, but we were also learning, discovering an entirely different variety of Asian cuisine.
By the end, we were already planning our next trip to Bali, simply so we could feast again at Bambu Bali…also to visit the monkeys, but don’t tell H.